Swiss gov't alarmed by worsening Geneva crime rate

FRANK JORDANS - Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations has warned its staff to avoid going out alone in Geneva at night after a vicious assault on the son of an American diplomat in this self-styled "city of peace."

The attack also caused alarm at the top tier of Swiss government, with the Foreign Ministry saying Monday that President Micheline Calmy-Rey has written to Geneva authorities to voice her concern at "the deterioration of the security situation in Geneva in recent months."

Serious violent crime is rare in wealthy Switzerland, but reports of the attack have spooked Geneva's large foreign and diplomatic community, prompting water cooler tales of muggings, break-ins and assaults.

Geneva police spokesman Jean-Philippe Brandt said nobody has been arrested in connection with the attack, which occurred in the center of Geneva during the early hours of July 17.

The victim — who was identified only as the son of an American U.N. diplomat — was attacked by up to a dozen assailants who beat him with metal rods and attempted to throw him into the river Rhone before a passing cyclist raised the alarm.

The U.N., whose European headquarters in the city employs thousands of people, sent a series of emails to staff, including a note warning that "one should not, repeat not, be out alone late at night in the city center."

A subsequent toned-down memo urged diplomats to "exercise caution and prudence when out in the evening or early morning hours in downtown Geneva" and added that the victim "could have lost his life" in the attack. U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the victim suffered fractures and bruises and was recovering.

U.S. officials said they had been in contact with Swiss authorities over the attack.

"We regret the violence committed against this young American and have confidence in the Swiss authorities' ability to apprehend those responsible," Alex Daniels, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in the Swiss capital Bern, told The Associated Press. "We also appreciate the Swiss government's cooperation on security and safety matters."

Last year, Geneva authorities published a survey showing more than two-thirds of foreigners questioned felt security had worsened in Geneva in recent years. The survey carried out in 2009 involved 1,082 people working for international organizations, diplomatic missions and multinational companies.

The Foreign Ministry said Monday that it considered the presence of international organizations in Geneva to be a pillar of Swiss foreign policy, and that their concerns should be a priority, "in particular any questions linked to security."


John Heilprin contributed to this report from Bern, Switzerland.